The pressure on teachers is admittedly more intense now than ever. Their salaries, job security and their schools’ rankings are increasingly dependent on their students’ academic performance. The new, clear message — deliver results — is unsettling to many veterans of a profession that for years was less focused on the bottom line.
Yet the stakes are even higher for our city, state and nation. And for the students themselves.
That’s because the economic future of communities and individuals is tied ever tighter to education attainment. To put it simply, those with the skills to flourish on a college campus will, on average, prosper in the work world of today. Conversely, those unable or unwilling to get training beyond high school are likely to struggle to find and keep jobs that pay a decent salary.
So it’s more vital than ever to ensure that the people hired to stand in front of classrooms to help prepare students are themselves well trained.
Unfortunately, a new national study indicates that far too many new teachers are not well-equipped to lead classrooms. The National Council on Teacher Quality, which analyzed data from more than 1,100 teacher training programs in preparing its report, described education schools as a whole as an “industry of mediocrity.” ‘‘The vast majority of teacher preparation programs do not give aspiring teachers adequate return on their investment of time and tuition dollars,” the report concluded. Academic standards for prospective teachers tend not to be high enough and student teaching assignments are not sufficiently challenging, the report found.
Not surprisingly, the deans at education schools in Indiana and elsewhere fired back at the study. Indiana University’s education dean, Gerardo Gonzalez, called the report “irresponsible.” The heads of teachers unions also attacked the findings.
But the study’s chief message — that too many new teachers aren’t adequately prepared — isn’t all that new. Prior research, for example, has found that more than 40 percent of teachers leave the profession within five years of launching their careers. Teachers drop out for various reasons — including low salaries and high salaries — but a significant percentage wash out because they can’t meet the expectations of the job.
And, as noted, those expectations are rising.
Instead of defensiveness about what may be a flawed report, Indiana’s teacher training programs need to soberly assess their own performance and their graduates’ post-college experiences, and then help lead a public discussion about the profession’s future.
Great teachers matter a great deal, and Indiana, which ranks 41st in the nation in the education level of its workforce, needs great educators even more than most states. Let’s drop the tiresome arguments over education long enough to determine what goes into the making of excellent teachers, and how we can train and retain more of them.
— The Indianapolis Star
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